Roman Polanski, who has spent four decades as the accused, will explore one of the most famous miscarriages of justice in his new film, J’Accuse.
French producers Legende Films confirmed that Polanski, who fled the U.S. after admitting to the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl in 1977, will begin shooting on the film in Paris later this year.
The spy thriller is based on the real-life story of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a French-Jewish solider wrongly accused of spying for the Germans, whose trial for treason became a cause celebre in Paris in the 1890s. French Oscar-winner Jean Dujardin (The Artist) will star as the counter-espionage officer who proved, after his conviction, that Dreyfus was, in fact, innocent.
Louis Garrel will play Dreyfus. Mathieu Amalric, Olivier Gourmet and Polanski’s wife, actress Emmanuelle Seigner, co-star.
Polanski has been developing the film, whose working title in English is The Dreyfus Affair, for six years now. British novelist Robert Harris, who worked with Polanski on the 2010 thriller The Ghost Writer, penned the script. The French title of the film, which means “I Accuse” comes from the famous open letter written by novelist Emile Zola in support of Dreyfus, shaming the French government for its anti-Semitism.
The director of Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby and Tess first announced the Dreyfus project in Cannes in 2012. He had initially planned to make the film in English, arguing the story was “absolutely relevant” for what’s happening in today’s world, “the age-old spectacle of the witch hunt on a minority group, security paranoia, secret military tribunals, out-of-control intelligence agencies, governmental cover-ups and a rabid press,” he said.
But the timing of the production means J’Accuse will be Polanski’s first film to arrive in the post-#MeToo era and its reception is certain to be colored by the changed political climate.
In 2003, Polanski’s The Pianist won three Oscars, including one for best director, and there were calls for the director to be pardoned and allowed to return to the U.S.
By last May, in the wake of #MeToo, the mood had completely changed. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences expelled the director, saying Polanski’s actions did not conform with the Academy’s new ethical standards regarding the “respect for human dignity.”
Polanski has called the expulsion “illegal” and has threatened legal action. In an interview with the Polish edition of Newsweek, done before the Academy ruling but published shortly afterwards, the director called the #MeToo movement a form of “collective hysteria.”
Polanski was arrested and charged with raping 13-year-old Samantha Geimer in 1977. He pled guilty to statutory rape and was imprisoned for 42 days, after which he was released and put on probation as part of a plea bargain. When Polanski learned that a judge was planning to revoke the plea deal, the director fled Paris before the sentencing. He has remained a fugitive every since, despite repeated attempt to extradite him. He lives in France, which does not extradite its own citizens.
Polanski himself will be portrayed by Polish actor Rafal Zawierucha in Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which is a reimagining of the period in the late 1960s before Polanski’s pregnant wife Sharon Tate was murdered by the Manson Family.